Anticipation, excitement builds as fall golf season commences

Pomperaug‘s Dan Casanta warms up before teeing off on the first hole at Highfield Country Club in Middlebury on Monday. The first fall boys golf season began on Monday.

Pomperaug‘s Dan Casanta warms up before teeing off on the first hole at Highfield Country Club in Middlebury on Monday. The first fall boys golf season began on Monday.

Rich Szymanski / Contributed photo

As Rich Szymanski gears up for golf season No. 34 at Pomperaug, it feels a lot different than recent seasons past.

“It is completely different. I told my wife the other day, ‘This is kind of like my first couple years of coaching, there are a lot of unknowns.’ I’m excited,” Szymanski said.

Monday was the first day of the first season of boys golf played during the fall. A total of 51 schools, including three co-ops, have made the switch from the spring season to the fall. The remaining teams will compete like normal next spring.

Those teams making the switch include all of the FCIAC, the South-West Conference, the Berkshire League and half of the Central Connecticut Conference. After two weeks of preseason practice, the regular season begins on Aug. 30.

“I’m very excited about the chance to finally find out for real what it is like to play high school, golf in the fall,” Darien coach Tom O’Donnell said. “Everything has been hypothetical to this point. After 20 years of trying, we get to see what is true and what isn’t true.”

O’Donnell, also in year No. 34 coaching the Blue Wave, said he had 40 kids try out for the team — the most of any season by 15, he said. Darien will likely be a FCIAC contender with 13 of 15 golfers returning from last spring when the program placed third in the league tournament.

“That will put a squeeze on how many kids we are able to take,” O’Donnell said.

The reasons the leagues wanted to move to the fall included: good weather at the start of the season versus poor conditions that forced teams indoors; kids playing through the summer in tournament conditions versus not playing at all because of the winter; and course availability with the girls golf teams staying in the spring.

“The best-case scenario in spring in the past is we would get a few practices in before our first match,” Szymanski said. “There were years where our first five matches were on the road because our course wasn’t (open). Many times our first home match was the first day we first stepped on the course.”

In the northwestern part of the state, weather tends to have an even greater impact during the early part of the spring.

“Literally every year there was a spot on the course during the spring where there was snow,” Northwestern coach Tom Hicks said. Northwestern plays its home matches at Norfolk CC

“Normally I’d have kids hit into a net, video tape their swing and evaluate where they should be varsity or JV,” said Hicks, now in his ninth season. “(Monday night) I was able to walk around to each kid, see where they are at. It was nice to have a natural golf environment.”

Both Darien and Pomperaug had some changes to how its home matches were scheduled. O’Donnell said it was difficult to find availability on the three private courses in town (CC of Darien, Woodway CC and Wee Burn CC). The Blue Wave have seven home matches spread over the three courses.

As of now, the Holahan Invitational, a staple in Darien for over a half century, is not on the schedule due to those three courses not being available. O’Donnell said if he cannot find another course to host the event, it will return in 2022.

Pomperaug has scheduled its seven home matches at Highfield CC in Middlebury. Szymanski said Hilo Point CC — the former Heritage Village CC, where the Panthers played last spring — wasn’t available, but will allow the team to practice there occasionally.

Hilo Point will host the Division II state championship meet on Oct. 18, where Pomperaug is competing. The Panthers, who return three starters from last year’s second straight SWC tournament last spring, finished second last year in Division II.

The SWC tournament is still up in the air for October. The FCIAC tournament will be held Oct. 14 at Silver Spring CC in Ridgefield. The CCC will have two tournaments, one in the fall (Oct. 14) and the spring (TBA) at Stanley GC in New Britain.

The Berkshire League champion is determined by the regular season. An individual tournament is held annually at Fairview Farm GC in Harwinton.; @nhrJoeMorelli